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Shrouds are ropes which form part of the standing rigging, helping to support a mast against the varying strains and pressures of wind and weather; they anchor it on either side, in contrast to the stays which support it fore and aft.

The lowest tier of shrouds is attached at the bottom to the channels which project from the side of the hull; at the upper end they pass through the lubber's hole and are secured to the body of the mast just below the cap. A system of deadeyes is mounted at the base of each shroud so that its tension can be adjusted. There are between three and eleven shrouds on each side, depending on the size of the vessel. The upper sections of each mast (topmast and topgallant) have each their own set of shrouds.

Besides their function as reinforcements, the shrouds are the sailors' normal route for climbing the mast. As an aid to this, lighter ropes called ratlines are stretched horizontally between them, forming a rope-ladder.

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